June 14th, 2024

Canes ready to serve it up

By Dale Woodard on September 9, 2021.

With the 2021-22 Western Hockey League season right around the corner, the Lethbridge Hurricanes are ready to serve up the real thing.

None of that watered down stuff.

Sure, it stands to reason that as the season approaches, coaches, players and fans alike will keep an eye on the COVID-19 situation that rendered the 2021 season a shortened – and somewhat sobering – affair.

But as the Canes open their 58-man training camp today at the Enmax Centre, Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt wants to serve up a season that will leave local fans downright punch drunk.

“I called last year WHL lite,” said Anholt of the shortened 24-game season that featured only weekend games against Central Division opponents. “It wasn’t really our league, but we gave the kids something to do and to develop with. But we’re playing for keeps now. So the travel is different and the expectations are different. So everybody will see something a little bit different.”

No matter how much punch the coming season will pack, it’s simply great to be back after the pandemic rendered the past season light weight.

“I can’t explain to you how excited we are,” said Anholt. “You see it in everybody’s eyes, whether it’s the office staff, obviously the coaching staff, the training staff and other players. The coaches have been working hard right from Aug. 1 getting prepared and ready to go with systems and everything like that. We are ready to go for camp. The kids have started to show up and have life in their eyes and they’re excited to get going. It’s always fun to come to training camp and see the kids, but it’s extra special this time.”

Opening day of camp starts this morning with practices at 8 a.m., 9:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

Team Red plays Team Blue at 5 p.m. and Team Red takes on Team Grey at 6 p.m.

Team Blue and Team Grey wrap up the day at 7 p.m.

This year’s camp not only features youngsters getting their first glimpse at a WHL camp, but also a first trip to the city for some.

“We have some players who we drafted a couple years ago who have never been to Lethbridge yet,” said Anholt. “That is so strange for me. We did have (2020 draft pick) Cole Miller with us last year as our first pick, but we picked two others kids that we signed right away in Noah Chadwick and Logan Wormald. They are both signed and this is the first time they have been to Lethbridge and have been on the ice with us. Those are just two of the guys we have signed out of that draft.”

Anholt assessed the 2002-born players on the roster who skate into this year as 19-year-olds.

“All of a sudden, they are 19 and on the expected leadership side of it,” he said. “Of course, (Alex) Cotton, (Logan) Barlage and (Justin) Hall being our three 20-year-olds, there are high expectations there. Everything changes, everything shifts. The league will be a lot harder this year than it was when it was a development league last year. Everything just kind of shifts a little bit more. We are always a development league, but of course winning is still paramount and very important, but development is always first and foremost.”

Both Cotton and Hall played for the Hurricanes as 17-year-olds.

Barlage was a key piece in the 2018 WHL trade deadline blockbuster deal with the Swift Current Broncos that sent goaltender Stuart Skinner and forward Giorgio Estephan the other way.

“Justin Hall had a breakout year last year and of course, Cotton had his breakout year the year before and Barlage is going into his fifth year. So expectations are always high for your 20-year-olds, not just with their play. Pressure is a privilege and I think that for those guys you are expected to contribute every day in one way, shape or form.”

That also applies to the 19-year-olds.

“Guys like (Alex) Thacker, (Chase) Wheatcroft, (Jett) Jones, (Trevor) Thurston and (Bryan) Thomson, all of those guys have been around for a while and expectations are that they all have to take a step and have to be leaders of our hockey club.”

A different feature to this year’s camp is the lack of 15-year-olds, cranking up the competition for roster spots.

“So everybody has a chance to play,” said Anholt. “It’s not where a 15-year-old just normally came for the experience.”

Still, Anholt said that new wrinkle to camp doesn’t change much other than the structure of the camp a little bit.

“Normally, we would have a couple of days of 15 and 16-year-olds and work with some of them. Usually 15 or so move into the main camp and some of the 15-year-olds are a part of that, especially your higher picks.”

Still, the process remains the same, said Anholt.

“We want to identify who is going to be a good major junior player and who has a chance to be a pro, who is going to contribute not only this year, but in years down the road. There are going to be some kids who are going to get listed out of this camp that weren’t listed previously.”

Returning to the Canes this season are the import players, who sat out the shortened 2021 WHL season.

The Hurricanes picked up a pair of forwards in the 2021 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, grabbing 2003-born forward Yegor Klavdiev and 2004-born forward Peter Repcik.

Klavdiev, 18, was selected with the 11th overall pick.

“I saw Klavdiev at the U18s down in Dallas,” said Anholt.

“I haven’t seen Repcik in person yet, so we are excited to see both of them.”

Repcik was scheduled to show up at the player sign-up Wednesday.

Klavdiev, however, still hasn’t gotten his VISA out of Belarus.

“So he might be a little bit late getting here,” said Anholt.

“So there are lots of different types of challenges, but ultimately at camp we want people to compete. We want them to show us what they can do, their skill level, their hockey sense and mental toughness, all that plays a part.”

After icing a younger team over the past few years, Anholt noted a bit of an older group this year.

“So expectations are always high as far as within our organization,” he said.

“We expect certain things and that won’t end this year. But we need some guys to step up and I think we’ll be watching with a lot of interest and excitement to see how people step up. I think going into camp there is always optimism no matter what team you’re on.”

“I think we are very realistic about our team and our approach.”

Anholt also took stock of the WHL Central Division and one early favourite.

“I think everybody seems to have given Edmonton (Oil Cups) the cup so far and they are really good on paper,” he said. “But paper doesn’t win championships. We feel we can really compete in our

division and we can compete in our conference.”

But Anholt said that will take all hands on deck.

“It’s going to be a team effort for us. We don’t have the game breaker that maybe we had in (Dylan) Cozens before or with (Calen) Addison. It’s going to have to be a real team effort for us this season as far as scoring, defence and goaltending.”

The games continue Friday and Saturday starting at 9 a.m. each day.

The Red vs. White Intra-Squad Game is slated for Sunday at noon.

The training camp is open to the public and is free of charge.

In accordance with guidelines from the Alberta Government, Alberta Health Services and the WHL, proof of vaccination is not required for entry, however fans will be required to wear a mask at all times in the Enmax Centre.

The Red vs. White game will also be free of charge with a donation of a non-perishable or monetary sum for the Lethbridge Food Bank and Interfaith Food Bank at the door.

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